Three things I never expected to see in mid-August in Arkansas:
My breath when I went outside in the morning.
People wearing sweaters outdoors.
A team from Hendrix practice football.
But on a brilliant Thursday afternoon with postcard-worthy clouds, the Warriors ran onto a football field for the first time since 1960.
One of the folks greeting them was Vance Strange, who played for one of the last Hendrix teams.
“I’ve had former players calling me last night and today with tears in their eyes,” he said. “They were crying. I had at least 20 calls asking if everybody had reported. That’s how they feel about seeing football again. People are excited. They thought they’d never see football here again.”
The Warriors, in their new matte black helmets, went through initial drills while construction workers with heavy equipment wore hard hats as they put the finishing touches on the new Young-Wise campus stadium.
The Hendrix players ended every conditioning drill with cries of “We are fast. We are physical. We are Warriors!”
If the timing on every count wasn’t correct, the coaches ordered them to repeat it.
Together from the start.
“Our expectations on these guys are the same as they are for them in the classroom,” said Hendrix head coach Buck Buchanan. “We are going to push them just as hard on the field as they professors do in the classroom. We don’t change or have different expectations just because they play football.”
Buchanan corrected one player for having his cell phone go off during a team meeting.
“That better not happen again, but get used to it,” he said. “And if it goes off in a classroom, it might be worse.”
Fifty-two of his 56 players are either freshmen or redshirt freshmen,
“But every day they are here, they are closer to being sophomores,” he said with a laugh.
Orchestrating a start-up program, one that includes a new stadium and locker room, has its special challenges.
For example, the Warriors will practice at 6 a.m. Sunday, take a break for church, then move into their new fieldhouse and locker room facility that afternoon.
“What a lot of people don’t realize when you start of a program is things like you have to wait for a washing machine to come in,” Buchanan said. “You don’t see that in the established programs.”
Everything is new and different.
Even August in Arkansas.
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org)